Two things with entirely different connotations bear the name of the Rev. Wade Watts along the McAlester avenue named to honor the late minister who became a champion of civil rights at both the state and national levels.

One is the monument put up in his honor at the bottom of the hill where Wade Watts Avenue intersects with Kiamichi Drive.

The other, a site where medical marijuana is sold, is the Wade Watts Avenue Dispensary. It has no connection with Rev. Watts or his family. The owner, Thomas Cass, said he selected the name because the dispensary's address is 1200 E. Wade Watts Ave.

One of Watts' daughters, Coluah Watts Stanfield, recently spoke to the News-Capital regarding some of the family's concerns.

But this week Thomas Cass, owner of the Wade Watts Avenue Dispensary, told the News-Capital he's officially changing the dispensary's name and plans to soon take down the sign on which "The Wade Watts Ave. Dispensary" is emblazoned.

Cass said he's renaming the site the HEMPtin Medical Dispensary.

"We know he's an iconic figure in this area," Cass said of Wade Watts.

"I never meant in any way to tarnish his name," Cass said. "If they think I'm doing that, we'll change it."

Rev. Watts, who died in McAlester in 1998, had a long and distinguished career, not only as the local pastor of the Jerusalem Baptist Church, but also as a national civil rights advocate.

Watts marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 in Selma, Alabama, when civil rights advocates were attacked by local authorities. He also served as state president of the Oklahoma NAACP for 16 years.

Members of Rev. Watts' family could not be reached as this article was being prepared for publication, but Miller Newman, who worked with Rev. Watts in the state NAACP and later became a state president of the organization himself, is glad to hear about plans to remove his friend's name from the medical marijuana dispensary.

"The thing of it is, I was a little dismayed," said Newman, who is current president of the Pittsburg County Chapter of the NAACP, on seeing his friend's name of the medical marijuana dispensary.

"The reverend might not like his name on that," said Newman, who said he had forwarded a report to the state NAACP to keep them aware of the situation.

Told that Cass said he intends to remove Watts' name from the facility, Newman said "That's fine. That other stuff, I don't like it."

Cass said he had previously spoken with some members of Watts' family, who Cass said told him they did not have a problem with calling the facility the Wade Watts Avenue Dispensary — as long as "avenue" was included.

He said he was later told other family members still had an issue with the name and that some who saw the dispensary's name mistakenly thought the Wade Watts family owned it — although they had no interest in it whatsoever. The name came from the dispensary's address, Cass maintained.

It takes more than simply switching signs to change the name of a medical marijuana dispensary, though. Cass said he's in the midst of taking all the legal steps required by the state to change the dispensary's name. 

"We've already filed with the OMMA," he said, referring to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. He said he's also filed with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Cass said he has also ordered a new sign, which he plans to place on the front of the dispensary as soon as all the changes are in place.

Although there are plans to remove the sign which reads The Wade Watts Ave. Dispensary from the front of the building, Cass said he plans to leave the building's address painted on the front of the dispensary.

"It will have 1200 East Wade Watts Avenue," Cass said, adding there's not much he can do about the dispensary's address.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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